Ottoman Taverna (Washington)

While researching interesting restaurants to dine at in Washington DC, Ottoman Taverna came up as the place where Michelle Obama and her friends visited for a dinner. Not too shabby if you’re an establishment where political royalty decides to break bread.  

Every Turkish meal should begin with the smoked eggplant salad ($10), which is really a dip and not the boring lettuce bowls we typically think of as a salad. Instead, it’s a flavourful thick spread made from roasted eggplant, Anaheim peppers, garlic, onion, parsley, and has a zippy lemon-pomegranate molasses drizzled on top.

A bit tangy, smoky, and spicy, it’s overall refreshing thanks to all the herbs and is great for smearing on warm pita. A great alternative appetizer that’s lighter than babaganosh without sacrificing flavour.

While the lamb and beef kibbeh ($12) seemed like they would be heavy and dense, after breaking through the thin crispy crust, the ground meat mixed with bulgur wheat breaks apart easily and is rather moist. Flavoured with aromatic onion, garlic, and parsley with some walnuts for texture, it’s even better when you wrap it in lettuce with some pickled vegetables.

Where exactly did I get this lettuce? It was part of the complimentary bite for the day, so sadly you may not always have this option. The amuse bouche contained a piece of chewy soft paste made from rice, tomato, and spices. It’s interesting, but definitely not something I would want again.

Ottoman was also my first experience tasting lahmacun ($12.75), a thin crispy flatbread topped with a spread made from lamb and spicy tomato paste. With the onion and cilantro on top, it’s a surprisingly light and refreshing starter.

It was a smart idea to keep the appetizers less meaty as when the Chef Mixed Grill for two ($57.50) arrived, there was more than enough protein to go around. The pucks of kofte – one beef with lamb and the other chicken – were both loosely packed making it moist and you could taste the herbs mixed throughout. Ottoman’s adana kebab was also really good and the lamb perfectly seasoned and also not overly strong.

Yet, the lamb chops were my favourite part of the platter: cooked medium well so that there was just a bit of pinkness remaining and oh so tender. If all the other options weren’t enough, there was also a heaping pile of shaved doner. If we had any pita remaining, this would have been delicious sandwiched with the onions. It also paired nicely with the rice, which must have been augmented with melted fat as the white rice was so flavourful and had a lovely silky texture.  

With all the appetizers, the meat platter for two was more than enough for our table of four. We really didn’t need another main, but the char-grilled branzino ($27.95) seemed like a good idea to balance out all the other proteins.


Since it arrived after the Chef’s Mixed Grill, I didn’t try the fish until later and by then it seemed overdone. Nonetheless, there was a solid meaty portion of the branzino and the silky herbed mashed potatoes it came with was delicious. The medley of sautéed vegetables was also refreshing and greatly appreciated after all the beef, lamb, and chicken!

There’s something about the décor at Ottoman Taverna that also makes the experience memorable. Even though the dining room is open and airy, there’s a sense of coziness at the banquettes with chairs that seem to hug you. It’s a modern atmosphere but the food is comforting and tastes like it’s steep in tradition. I can see why it’s where the First Lady decides to nosh with her pals.

Overall mark - 8 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Washington, USA
 Address: 425 I St NW

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

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